Italy's Mysterious 'Park of Monsters'

Bess Lovejoy

In the woods of the small Italian town of Bomarzo, about 42 miles north of Rome, a grotesque but fascinating series of surprises await visitors. About 20 rough-hewn sculptures have been carved from the rocks at a place colloquially known as Parco dei Mostri ("Park of Monsters"), where they have stood for more than 400 years. (The park's official name is the Sacred Wood of Bomarzo.)

The sculptures—a war elephant, an enormous fish, two giants dismembering each other—were commissioned by prince and patron of the arts Pier Francesco Orsini in 1552. Although Orsini’s precise motivations for creating the park have been lost to history, it’s often thought that the strange forms were his way of dealing with his grief after returning from a bloody war only to have his beloved wife die.

As Dylan Thuras of Atlas Obscura notes in the video above, the park was essentially abandoned after Orsini died in the 1580s. It fell into neglect until 1938, when Salvador Dalí stumbled upon it and fell in love. Dalí made a short film about the place, and it also inspired his 1946 painting The Temptation of Saint Anthony. (Jean Cocteau was also a big fan.) The park was restored in the 1950s, and has been alternately spooking and delighting visitors ever since.